Two years after Hurricane Sandy destroyed hundreds of homes and damaged hundreds more, residents still haven’t recovered.
Residents and state and city officials continue to debate whether some neighborhoods should never be rebuilt, but should instead become buffers against the next storm.
Homes that were built on top of freshwater and tidal wetlands were submerged in the storm surge, making homes unlivable for many residents for months.
District Manager Charlene Wagner of Community Board 3, along with the board’s land use committee board contend neighborhoods such as New Dorp Beach and Midland Beach should return to its natural state. She explained that the houses were built in the early 1900’s, when the building permits and codes were far more lax than they are today.
“These houses would not be built today because of our zoning and building permits. The best case scenario would be to not rebuild again. If the state buys out land, it returns to its natural state,” she said. The land will be wetlands again, which would connect into the Bluebelt Park of Staten Island.
Most residents in the New Dorp and Midland Beach areas have already moved out, abandoning the homes Sandy destroyed.
“They bring down the property value of the standing homes around it,” said Michelle Persico, a Staten Island resident who was asked about the issue . “And what if it happens again, then the people who are living there will have to experience the heart ache again.”
However, the land use committee held a meeting to introduce the Build It Back Program, a city-funded effort to help Sandy victims. Patrick Ryan, director of external affairs from Mayor Bill De Blasio’s office of Housing Recovery explained that the plan utilizes billions of dollars allocated through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. If homeowners decide to use the plan, they have the option to repair their home, elevate their home, rebuild entirely, or receive reimbursements if they decided to rebuild on their own.
The plan, also known as BIB, follows its guidelines that are special for the program only. A private contractor, for example, would have to follow the normal building codes. The program utilizes an emergency executive order issued by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg that suspends height and other restrictions so that homes can meet new flood elevation standards.
An architectural firm in Queens, The Bluestone Organization, has already been chosen as the rebuild developer for the project. It has streamlined the process with pre-approved designs, budgets and contractors and guarantees performance.
Based upon the lot size and width, homeowners will be able to choose from some 10 prototypes. Each home will include flood resilient construction, all homes will be elevated above required base flood elevations, buildings will have mold-resistant materials, wind resistant features and storm shutters, and all homes will meet energy efficiency requirements.
After seeing the blueprints, Daniella Reynoso, another resident of Staten Island, said she thought the homes would be attractive.
“The homes look like they are well thought out and carefully planned,” she said. “They come with all these positive features, and are following new codes about the elevation. I don’t know why everyone isn’t climbing on board.”
However, the possibility that the contractors were self-certified or the inspection process for the electrical, plumbing and construction worried the board as well. No outside inspection will take place, which concerns members of the board.
The board rejected the plan because it did not follow building codes.
The BIB program brought up the idea of a “cluster file.” The cluster application filings will ease noticing requirements and group public hearings to make the situation as unproblematic as possible. The program also modifies procedures such as shorten individual and simplified application procedures.
Still, obtaining the Department of Environmental Conservation Wetland permits in a timely manner would be an issue for the BIB program as well, and cannot be a fast-tracked process.
“It sets a precedent for years to come,” explained Wagner. “Two years from now a contractor can say ‘Well, you let the people of Sandy do it,’ and contractors should build according to code.”